“We are presented with many challenges that face us on a global scale, from climate change to over-population to geo-political tension. Business is not separate from any of these obstacles to humankind and can play a crucial role in large scale change needed for a better world. Where do we start as business leaders? Leaders can begin by asking three questions when doing business:
(1) Are we doing the right thing in our thinking and action?; (2) Are we doing it the right way?; and, (3) Are we doing it for the right reasons?”
The Greek poet Pindar wrote, “Oh my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible.”
Augustine wrote, “Hope has two beautiful daughters, Anger and Courage – anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”
I facilitate student’s learning and meaning-making in business ethics and corporate social responsibility. They learn from me, and I learn from them in a co-learning process. It is this privilege of creative interchange that enables me to self-reflect on the challenges and opportunities in enabling a better world. Often students interchange morals and ethics as the same thing, when there is a difference in meaning. Morals can be defined as concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour, or moral codes of behaviour that we form through our social fabric of interconnections. The word moral comes from the origins of the latin word mores or moralis meaning customs or manners. Whereas ethics is the study of morals, or the process where we systematically and critically weigh in on our culture customs to sense if we are living to the societal standards of right and wrong.
We are told, reminded, and sense daily that we live in a turbulent world, where inequality, poverty, and conflict are omnipresent. Sometimes this dystopian world we are presented with is paralyzing, and one often feels that they cannot make a difference. We hear ourselves say, “so why bother worrying about it anyway––what can I do!”
The eighteenth-century moral philosopher, Adam Smith, thought that business offered tremendous potential and hope to the world. He believed the free-enterprise system offered the scale and ability to morally address the injustice and and unfairness of the world, while prospering. His held belief was that business and moral interests could co-exist for the well-being of humanity. Somewhere this ideal that was once embraced has been lost through the years. Smith was right though, that business holds great power and scalability, however, it can be suggested this force has been narrowly focused on profit maximization––throwing a blind-eye and casting a shadow on the well-being of humankind. One result of this is, one percent of the population (the wealthy elite) now possess over half of the world’s financial wealth, and this gap continues to grow. I feel if business was a student and given a report card on living up to its potential, it would be failing miserably, due to the lack of moral compass. Like all good teachers, society cannot give up on business, and needs to focus on its great potential for creating the world anew.
As with all failing students, there is always hope. Hope to find one’s latent potential, to have courage to not remain the same, to engage and learn from failures to move towards fulfilling one’s true calling. We all get lost at times in our life, where we have gotten off-track from our authentic self, and the values we stand for. Business has a moral obligation and a responsibility to live to its true nature. The origins of the word company comes from the Latin word companio, meaning the “one who eats bread with you.” This brings the awareness that organizations are made of weaved relationships and interconnected networks of people, who come together in community in the pursuit of a greater purpose. Should not that purpose always include the greater good of the community first, the community that supports life of the organization?
We are presented with many challenges that face us on a global scale, from climate change to over-population to geo-political tension. Business is not separate from any of these obstacles to humankind and can play a crucial role in large scale change needed for a better world. Where do we start as business leaders? Leaders can begin by asking three questions when doing business:
(1) Are we doing the right thing in our thinking and action?; (2) Are we doing it the right way?; and, (3) Are we doing it for the right reasons?
These questions enable us to critically bend the light back on our thinking and behavior in the context of our core values, purpose, and organizational culture as it relates to ourselves and the world that surrounds us. If we are to be resilient and adapt to the challenges of a changing world, i.e., climate change and inequality, we need to match dramatic shifts in complexity with shifts in individual, organizational and societal mindsets. These shifts in mindsets can open up emergence that can be sensed through novel structures, patterns, and properties that drive self-organization towards new possibilities that address social-ecological challenges, and at the same time enable the organization to grow and prosper.
In the end, as authentic and moral leaders our obligation in business and life is to take care for the basic needs and legitimate expectations of others as well as our own. Developing our awareness of our core values and purpose, and tying this to our desired futures, enables us to design actions that provides hope in what is possible.
Professor Williams’ research interests include complexity and enabling leadership capacity that imbues critical and resilient thinking. He is interested in exploring holding environments that strip away cultural coding and expose the genetic coding of the authentic self, connecting individuals and collectives in networks and systems thinking perspectives. This includes understandings of social-ecological systems that encompass fairness, prosperity and sustainability.
Professor Williams leads the Integral Dialogue Project, dedicated to co-inspiring human potential through leadership development. The Integral Dialogue Project builds capacity for change by working with leadership to develop knowledge and skills paramount to leading change effectively. The goal is to create a new awareness to positive transformation by focusing on the social neuroscience of change and fostering a greater understanding of the underlying resistance and fear that is natural for stakeholder participating in the change process.
CEGE Connection is pleased to advise that Professor Williams has graciously agreed to be a repeat contributor on CEGE Connection